Olivia Bartlett is stunned to find her old friend, Deputy Tucker Hawkins, living in the house she has inherited, but she's even more shocked to glimpse her cruel stepfather lurking in the shadows. Has Walter come back to haunt her, or is he really alive and trying to kill her?
Tucker loves the old house and won't admit it may actually belong to Olivia, but he allows her to stay under his roof until they can ferret out the truth. Her belief that her stepfather has returned makes him second guess his decision, but by then it's too late.
Odd happenings inside the old house escalate as soon as Olivia moves in, and she turns to Tucker for protection. The rugged deputy is happy to oblige. He not only stakes his claim to the old house, but also to her heart.
Olivia screamed and bolted up in bed. Sweat poured down her neck. She fought off the covers and put her feet on the floor. The hotel room was dark, nearly as black as that smelly old stall had been. The memory of Walter's clammy touch, the incredible strength in his hands, and his vile curses haunted her. Shaking off the vivid image, she gasped for air.
Twenty-one years had passed since that awful autumn day, but the snapshots in her head now were just as crystal-clear as they had been back then. Maybe even more so, because today she was going home to Strong Springs. Olivia rose and padded to the bathroom. Her short red hair stood up in disarray, and dark circles underscored her green eyes. She cursed her milky skin that was so like her mother's. She didn't want any ties to her past. Not her looks, not the terrifying nightmares, and certainly not that damned house. Her skin crawled at the thought of the place.
Knowing she had no choice but to return there, however, she gritted her teeth and hurriedly got dressed. It was barely dawn, but she wanted to get on the road. She had a ten-hour drive ahead of her.
As she headed south toward her old hometown, her mind skittered over the staggering events that had turned her life upside down. First had come a call from the county sheriff who had investigated Walter's suicide. Then she'd received a note from Walter himself, dated the day before he'd shot himself in the head. A note promising her an inheritance. She shivered with revulsion. His message had been brought by a lawyer bearing the deed to the family home. He'd also sent a check, for an amount so astonishing she'd been afraid to cash it.
No amount of money could erase the appalling memories that seared her soul. She never wanted to go back there. Not even now, with Mama and Walter both dead. The place scared her out of her wits, but she had to go. Now that Walter was dead, she could safely enter the house and find the letter that belonged to her. The letter her mother had told her about so long ago.
As she drove into the tiny town, the late-afternoon March sun sent long shadows spearing across the square. Strong Springs boasted of its aristocratic beginning, but in reality a trio of escaped prisoners -- including Walter's great-grandfather, a convicted murderer, who had built the old homestead -- had founded it. No wonder her stepfather had turned out to be such a bastard.
The shadows deepened as Olivia pulled onto County Road 275, leading to the old homestead. Hell on earth, she liked to call it. The big house loomed just ahead, its ghostly white shape rising through the trees like a vile mirage. The closer she drew, the faster her breaths became.